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Dr. King's principles an enduring remedy to rising violence

Dr. King's principles an enduring remedy to rising violence
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Our nation’s capital prepared for this election the way Florida prepares for a hurricane.

Election day in the nation’s capital was marked by businesses across the city boarding up their buildings. Having suffered a spate of broken windows during earlier demonstrations, companies feared that dissatisfaction with the poll results might trigger a new round of violence.

Violence did indeed come to Washington, D.C. Of course, many observers attributed the violence to passions on both sides after such a turbulent year, but strong sentiment on matters of politics has been common throughout American history.

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The 20th century featured many sharp divisions that gave rise to passionate political disagreement. Tensions of the Cold War, driven by the Soviet expansionism and the rise of a Communist regime in China, polarized Americans. Campaigns during the 1960s highlighted bitter disputes over issues ranging from the Vietnam War to civil rights. 

Yet until 2020, businesses in Washington, D.C., and in other cities across the country, did not fortify their offices on election day. This sad state of affairs is an obvious blemish on America’s international reputation as a democracy. But it illustrates a far greater problem — a real deterioration of the principles that hold America together.

E pluribus unum — out of many, one — is the nation’s motto, displayed on the Great Seal of the United States. It is the vision that gave birth to the American republic. It is the vision that spurred such extraordinary growth over the last two centuries and more. It is the vision that made the United States the destination of those seeking to find opportunity and escape oppression.

For the sake of future generations, now is the time for us to recommit to the principles that hold us together — a unifying vision of fundamental rights and freedom for all.

Of course, the American founding was marred from the start by the failure to extend the founding principles to all Americans. The most brutal and hypocritical example of that failure was the institution of slavery, the antithesis of our founding ideals.

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The mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tragically short life was to enable African-Americans to claim the fundamental rights enshrined in our founding documents for themselves and their children.

In a sense, Dr. King was a modern founder who called on our nation to finally correct our history of slavery and segregation. He showed our nation a better way than the violent path of Rwanda and so many other nations where generations of racial injustice have led in turn to generations of racial slaughter.

A central element of Dr. King’s teachings was the importance of the dignity and value of every human. For this reason, Dr. King insisted that this basic moral end be pursued through nonviolence. He understood that peaceful protest — even in the face of violence — was more powerful than adopting the tools of the oppressor. 

In the half century since Dr. King’s death, social science research has extensively validated the efficacy of his commitment to pursuing social justice through non-violence — but in spite of decades of social science data proving that peaceful reform movements are far more effective in the long run, America seems to be drifting in the direction of the cycles of violence that have plagued so many societies throughout history.

This is the reason that we felt — as educators — the need to launch a national initiative to teach Dr. King’s non-violent social justice principles to a new generation. Our first step was to interview civil rights pioneers like Ambassador Andrew Young, whose life also modeled the same non-violent principles that are an essential foundation for productive citizenship in a democratic society.

Now we are beginning to introduce both the high school and elementary school versions of our MLK curricula in over a half dozen states across the country.

The goal of our educational initiative is to try to raise up thousands of Dr. Kings — from among every community in our great and diverse nation — by harnessing the power of the tools of the Digital Age to be torchbearers for his transcendent ideals of social justice.

America cannot be an example to the world if we do not also demonstrate the moral principles that are at the necessary foundation of the entire democratic enterprise. We must continue to work for the dream of fundamental rights for all humanity — and we must do so peacefully, as Dr. King taught the rest of us with his life.                                                                                         

Dr. Anthony Jones is Associate Provost and Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management at Howard University.

Dr. Matthew Daniels is the Chair of Law and Human Rights at the Institute of World Politics.